Monthly Archives: February 2010

Post Apocalyptic Weekend Wrap up

I just caught the first episode of the BBC series The Survivors which follows a group of people in the wake of a virus that kills 90% of the worlds population.  I don’t know if there’s anything particularly new in the story but I also don’t know if that’s necessary for these end of the world tales.  The first episode was pretty good both in terms of acting and production values and so, if you’re a fan of apocalypse fiction, try to find a copy and watch it.

I’m not sure how I missed this given the first season was from 2008 but they seem to have started another season this year.

Oh, and nertz to the BBC for not allowing those of us on this side of the pond from watching their programs on-line.  Gee, and are there really people out there who don’t understand why people engage in file sharing?


It might be the end of the world so you better start stocking up your food supplies now.  There’s a fungus that kills wheat with amazing efficiency and we have no idea how to stop it.  (h/t daily dish)

Times must be tough…

…because when I saw this video (h/t boingboing) my second reaction* was ‘That’s terrible that guy is wasting food like that.’  Don’t bother watching the whole video.  Once you’ve seen the first banana explode you kind of get the idea and there’s no big finish.

*My first reaction was ‘They’re really taking liberties with the word ‘artist’ these days’


Finland 5 Slovakia 3

The Finns win the bronze!

The fall of Rome with spoiled brats

I’m finally getting around to reading this months Atlantic monthly (you’d think for the amount of time I shill for them they’d throw me some swag or something) and hit upon ‘How a New Jobless Era will Transform America‘ by Don Peck.  It’s grim.  Basically, unemployment (and underemployment) is over 17% and we’re going to need amazing levels of growth over an extended period of time if we want to get at the ‘benchmark’ rate of around 5%.  But that’s not what caused me to write about the article.

Check out this quote:

“…the innovative potential of the U.S. economy looks limited today.”

“Dynamism in the U.S. has actually been in decline for a decade; with the housing bubble fueling easy (but unsustainable) growth for much of that time, we just didn’t notice…”

At the risk of appearing melodramatic, for some reason I immediately thought about the late Roman empire.  While I don’t think this the the end (or even the beginning of the end) I began thinking about how aware we might be to historically significant trends and events that might be going on around us.  Did Romans see the spread of the Laitfundium and the tying of people to hereditary occupations would lead to weaken the empire over the long term and eventually give rise to feudalism?  Heck, provided you weren’t in the way of the migratory nations would you even know the empire was ‘falling’ (a long, inevitable decline rather than just a temporary rough spot)?

“We haven’t seen anything like this before:  a really deep recession combined with a really extended period, maybe as much as eight years, all told, of highly elevated unemployment…We’re about to see a big national experiment on stress.”

So how might something like this affect the population and then what would the long term consequences be (if any) on the culture (political/social/economic) and international system?

That leads into my second point which is a bit more whimsical.  Peck makes it quite clear that it’s ‘folly’ to try to characterize entire generations with labels and stereotypes.

But, once that formality is out of the way, he takes a couple pages to generalize and slap around Gen Yers.  Normally, I’d really call him out on that but since I enjoy talking trash about them as well (Us generation  Xers are the only decent generation – everyone else is either too old or too dopey).

Well, all I’ve got to say is we’re in big trouble if Peck is right about these knuckleheads.

“…a combination of entitlement and highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and entrepreneurialism in many 20-somethings.  They’re used to checklists…and ‘don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.”

Peck then goes on to spread the gloom.  These economic conditions could also strike a blow to the institution of marriage as the poor put it off (too expensive and risky) but don’t postpone having children (which are seen as a ‘low cost way to achieve meaning and bolster identity’).  This leads one of Peck’s sources to say:

We could be headed in a direction where, among elites, marriage and family are conventional, but for substantial portions of society, life is more matriarchal.

One of the emerging stories of this recession has been that crime hasn’t risen as many people expected.  Some say this proves that ‘liberal’ theories about why people commit crime is flawed (lack of alternatives, economic shortcomings, etc.).  The argument in the article is that the impact of a distressed economy on the social fabric takes time to manifest (insert your trying to turn a battleship on a dime metaphor here) and will take a long time to recover from as well.

So…predictions of immediate spikes in crime were unfounded and treated society as much more nimble than it is.  For us, the worst may be in the pipeline.

Finally, misery won’t be a positive social bonding experience either:

…both inside and outside the U.S., lengthy periods of economic stagnation or decline have almost always left society more mean-spirited and less inclusive, and have usually stopped or revered the advance of rights and freedoms.

The article does have some problems.  It’s filled with so many ‘could’, ‘might’, ‘may’ phrases that it sounds like a a weather report (‘We can expect either rain or sun today so bring your umbrella and sun screen!’).   The article relies on various experts in the field (although the article doesn’t provide a lot of clues how reliable/credible these people are) and anecdotal evidence so it’s difficult to tell how much of this article is steak and how much is sizzle.

Did Lunghu predict the earthquake in Chile?

No doubt, you’ve heard about the massive 8.8 earthquake that’s struck Chile today.  Allow me to point you to a post written by Lunghu more than a week ago about predictions based upon the principles of Chinese cosmology:

Here are lunghu’s own predictions, based on factors other than the 5 Elements, 10 Stems, 12 Branches, or 12 Animals.

A devastating earthquake is looming in the Andean region. . . possibly in central Chile.

This could be coincidence…..or Lunghu could be good at making predictions….OR (my preferred hypothesis) Lunghu has access to an earthquake machine.

How would anyone get an earthquake machine, you ask?

That’s simple.  Strike a deal with the mole men.

Now zombies want rights….

Courtesy of Lunghu who refrains from covering this sort of edgy stuff in his blog.  We need to stop screwing around worrying about immigrants and terrorists and start looking at the real threat we face.  From France24 (note, no American media outlets are covering this):

An appeals court in the northern US city of Minneapolis, Minnesota on Wednesday allowed a group of zombies…*… to press ahead with their lawsuit against police who arrested them for disorderly conduct.

The appeals court overturned a lower court in finding that the group of seven “zombies” had been wrongfully detained during a 2006 shopping mall protest against consumerism.

The three-judge panel, by a two-to-one vote, ruled that Minneapolis police lacked probable cause to arrest the demonstrators for disorderly conduct.

Disorderly conduct?  So that’s how these activist judges refer to cracking open the heads of innocent people and eating their brains.

May I recommend the next thing you click should probably be this.

*contains pesky ‘facts’ which would ruin this post.

Those plucky Finns

What the fuck was that?

Kvick Tänkare

Why are dogs so good at picking up social ques from humans?  Just a note, we are unable to replicate this experiment at TwShiloh HQ because when I point at something Shiloh tends to just stare at my finger.  Sometimes he’ll bark at me.

Ok, I’m not kidding now.  Go to Kotare’s website and read his alternate history of post WW1 Europe.

Is anyone really shocked to find out that various federal agencies were collecting information on various groups not engaged in criminal activity?  I was going to go a bit deeper into this but can see it’s going to need it’s own post.  More later.

Pervasive security cameras don’t substantially reduce crime.

The Atlantic has redesigned their website.  They just have such a consistently high quality of stuff it’s amazing but it’s going to take some time to get used to this format.

Remind me, if I ever have a daughter, that she absolutely will NOT have a traditional Islamic wedding (not that it would be likely but just for the record).

And…the latest in the Washington Facebook-sphere

Shaking the pillers of heaven

Stephen Walt has a piece up with recommendations on how to handle attacks when you upset the apply cart by challenging conventional wisdom and cherished assumptions.  Now, he’s writing from the position of discussions on the national level where opponents and arguments can come from a wide range of interest groups and the media but I think you could scale a number of these recommendations down to the local and/or organizational level as well.

I’ve thought about and written about this issue from a slightly different angle before when talking about how analysts and their role in forcing through organizational change.  Therefore here’s my riff on Walt’s recommendations from my own experiences and observations.

  1. Think Through Your “Media Strategy” before You Go Public. If you’re going to recommend changes that are outside the comfort zone of decision maker,different from what your organization has traditionally done you know from the get go that you’re going to encounter a lot of resistance, both individual and organizational.  Regardless of the merits (or lack of them) of the proposal, nobody likes the uncertainty of change.  So before you unleash your brilliant idea on the world, take a second to think about how you should market it.  Are you going to try to build a broad base of support or target a select number of key players?  Are you addressing an existing problem or trying to get your organization to expand into new territory (uncharted or someone else’s)?  Perhaps you want to sell your idea outside your organization as well as (maybe even before) you raise it in house.
  2. You Have Less Control Than You Think. If you have surrogates arguing your case they may not do so in the way you want.  They may not understand your proposal perfectly or may be using it to further their own aims and so only push certain aspects of it or characterize it.  In any case you may find yourself wrapped up in a controversy over a periphery issue or battling misunderstandings rather than discussing what you see as the important aspects of your idea.  Other people are going to want to change the narrative.
  3. Never Get Mad. It’s your idea and you have a personal attachment to it.  It’s your baby.  And when someone tells you that your baby is ugly you want to teach that fool some manners.  Resist getting personal and emotionally driven.  While you might be able to pull a tactical win out of it (I showed that jerk!) there’s just no way you’ll do well strategically.
  4. Don’t Respond to Every Single Attack. My biggest flaw. Sometimes you (meaning I) want to respond to every goofy objection/attack with a carpet bombing approach, overwhelming them with an avalanche of facts and references in the hope that they’ll give up.  You spend so much time rebutting that you hand over the initiative to your opponents and they start driving the message train.
  5. Explain to Your Audience What Is Going On. I just had an experience with this yesterday.  Many times people don’t see the context in which arguments are made and so afford them more weight than they deserve.  So, no, plan X isn’t technically impossible it’s just that it might mean that there wouldn’t be a need for a supervisor position that Mr. Y has been gunning for and that’s why he’s opposed.
  6. The More Compelling Your Arguments Are, The Nastier the Attacks Will Be. This is a tough one because it can also serve to justify wrapping yourself in a cocoon of delusion.  The more your idea makes a compelling argument for change the more the forces which benefit from the status quo will try to undermine it.  You might have the best idea in the world but if you’re nowhere near actually getting your ideas accepted you won’t rise about the level of an annoying buzzing in someone’s ear.  Of course, you could just be a kook in which case…
  7. You Need Allies. So that they’ll tell you if you’re a kook.  But, also because you simply won’t be able to be everywhere all the time.  You need proxies to fight for you.  You need people who are respected to vouch for you and give your idea some additional heft.  You need information about what’s going on.
  8. Be Willing to Admit When You’re Wrong, But Don’t Adopt a Defensive Crouch. Many times admitting that you’ve done anything wrong is spun as everything you’ve done is wrong.  If your idea is good it shouldn’t rely on too many choke points that can call the entire proposal into question.  In fact, the stability of an idea in the face of the occasional error should be held up as a strength (‘Yes, but even though ABC is no longer correct, XYZ is still inevitable because of all these factors.’)
  9. Challenging Orthodoxy Is a Form of “Asymmetric Conflict”: You Win By “Not Losing.Patience, grasshopper.  You may lose the battle but if you follow the above (or most of them) you can still win the fight.  This isn’t a kamakazi mission where you win or die (or win and die).  If you lose your battle but managed to get your idea out there and accomplished a few of these other points you can be seen as a resistance leader and begin building your own center of gravity.  When opportunities present themselves next time, you’ll be even better prepared.
  10. Don’t Forget to Feel Good about Yourself and the Enterprise in Which You Are Engaged. If you’ve gotten this far it’s probably because you’re working for something that you enjoy or have some emotionally connection to.  This shouldn’t be a cross you have to bear.  Find ways to stay connected to the parts of this endeavor that you enjoy (may I suggest…)

Of all of these, #9 has become the one that’s dearest to my heart.  I would have been skeptical of that advice a few years ago but I’ve seen it in action and now I’m totally sold.

I’ve often (probably too often) recommended that analysts frustrated by antiquated methods and stifling bureaucratic rules should consider conducting an analysis and intelligence op against their own agency.  In addition to a good examination of the operating environment and threat analysis I’d recommend keeping these close at hand as well.

Runnin’ with the Taliban

Just in case you’ve been as absorbed in Olympic hockey as I have you might have missed the Frontline special this week called Behind Taliban Lines.  An Afghan journalist got to spend a week with a group of insurgents in Baghlan province (he was planning on spending two weeks with them but they got a bit hinky and the leader of the insurgents sent the journalist on his way when some started to talk about beheading him).

It’s a great view of the insurgents and takes a bit of the tarnish off the image that these are some sort of mindless automatons who can’t wait to die.  There’s a scene where the group is being berated by their leader via cell phone for being too worried about their own safety rather than taking the fight to their enemy.  The reaction of the insurgents, who had spent hours in a cold field was brilliant.

The whole thing did bring back some memories.  Some good (the melons which were the best I’ve ever had and the Afghans know it, joking that those were the real reason the Americans had invaded) and some bad (the local police who keep insisting that there’s ‘no problem’ with insurgents and everything is secure).

It’s about 40 minutes long and well worth your time.  Check it out.